Recognising Excellence in NSW Government Legal Service
Speech: Vaughan Roles, Highly Nominated, 2021 Michelle Crowther PSM Excellence in Government Legal Service Award
Thank you for those kind words. I also thank the members of the Government Solicitor’s’ Committee for this award. It is a privilege to receive this award, in circumstances where I worked with Michelle at Legal Aid and have first-hand knowledge of the contributions she made as a public service solicitor.
It is humbling when your colleagues within government choose you as the recipient of an award. It is more-so to have been nominated by members of the private profession. I thank all involved for taking the time to do so. To be recognized by your peers in both private and public practise is very special.
I am not a senior lawyer within the management structure of Legal Aid. I work at the coal face.
One reason I can do so much is the extraordinary trust and flexibility my supervising solicitor, Ikbal Khan, places in me. In short, he supports everything I do publicly, even if we occasionally privately disagree. What is truly gratifying is that over a long working relationship we have always been united in the final decisions that are taken. Ikbal I couldn’t do what I do for our clients without your support and I thank you. I feel very fortunate to have you as a manager and a friend.
I take this opportunity to thank my current and former colleagues who have worked with me over a long period of time at Parramatta. You kindly listen to me and, for the most part, accept my advice when it is given.
I sincerely thank the judiciary. I am fortunate in that I have a special interest in representing people with intellectual or mental health disabilities. I value the fact that You trust me when I tell you supports are available for offenders, or I ask for an opportunity to put a complex plan in place. This truly means a lot to myself and those people who I represent. I remain hopeful that an increased knowledge of the role of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in supporting people with disability within our profession will lead to significant improvements in the quality of the lives of people with disability.
I’d like to thank those throughout my career who have believed in me and mentored me. I remember the Barristers at Lachlan Macquarie Chambers in Parramatta who took me on for my practical legal training 22 years ago, many of whom continue their professional commitment to my career as good friends and mentors to this day. Work, as a blind lawyer, was very different back then.
On this subject, I am very grateful for the fact I am totally blind. The ability to see, which most of you understandably take for granted, cannot be underestimated. Some people still see disabilities such as mine as unfortunate. I can say, categorically, this is not true. Be assured my blindness has given me many opportunities in life that I may not otherwise have had. Away from work, I have been fortunate enough to represent NSW and Australia in Blind Cricket. Elite sport fine-tunes and enhances many of the skills we bring to our working lives – discipline, resilience, and an ability to perform under pressure. As a person with a disability, these skills are vital for success - professionally and personally.
It is truly an exciting time to practice law as a blind person. When I began my professional life, I had to summarize each document in Braille. I could not consult legislation in court. This necessitated training the memory to recall large amounts of information for a short period of time.
The advent of smart phone technology, Braille printers, Braille screens and smaller, more powerful computers has levelled the playing field for the blind lawyer. Like my sighted colleagues, I can now read printed and electronic documents literally passed to me in court. But old habits, as the cliché says, die hard. I rarely read from notes. When I do pleas and sentences, I rely on memory. Advocacy, as you know, is about the art of persuasion – that flows from being well prepared well organized and a sound knowledge of your subject.
In closing, there are two final groups that need acknowledgement. This award is as much my family’s as it is mine. They put up with my early morning alarms, the shutting of bedroom doors so they can sleep and an imposed understanding that court-room advocacy is at times all-consuming.
Not least, I thank my clients. They often can’t remember my name and ask for the solicitor with the guide dog.
Many of them come from a truly traumatic past. Most of them have significant intellectual disabilities or major mental health conditions. Regrettably, most of them don’t have any family or close friends to advocate their specific societal rights. There is little hope of fixing legal problems for these people without ensuring they are engaged with disability services, have a house, consult mental health professionals and receive assistance. The assistance in many cases is in respect to drug and alcohol addictions. The decline in social services for these people means the lawyer must take a holistic approach.
You, my clients, afford me the opportunity to be recognized for which I am truly thankful.